The first time when my friend Barbara and I talked
about supporting my husband on his PBP ride, we thought about spending a
couple of vacation days, planned some sightseeing, talked about the French
cuisine, small cafés, ice cream and freshly baked croissants. Because we had
never done something similar before, we didn’t really know how to prepare
and what to expect. We hadn’t heard at all about PBP and couldn’t believe
that people would ride their bikes 1200 km just for fun.
Packing the car
It was also the first time for my husband to
participate on PBP. Therefore, he decided to take everything that came to
mind. The van we rented in Germany was fully packed but well organized. 10
boxes with spare parts, batteries, bike clothes, Bag Palm, medicine against
everything, an extra box with spare wheels, the bike, two computers, the
American and the German Flag, two GPS, a small bag for Barbara and me.
Day before the start
One day before the ride started we went to the starting
area. First of all we realized that there were thousands of people who
wanted to ride 1200 km. More exciting was that you could see all kinds of
bikes: old and new, singles, tandems and triplets, high wheels and bikes you
have never seen before. We could feel the excitement and the suspense in the
air and it felt like an electrostatic charge. Everyone got his bike
inspected and was ready to go. There were only a couple more hours to the
Day of the start
The morning of the Prologue we stayed at the hotel
preparing for the next day and studying the route we had to drive. We didn’t
get to watch the Prologue because of the light rain, and we felt sorry about
that after we heard Reinhard’s report.
The start itself was very impressive. After we found a
parking lot we searched for Reinhard, Dan and Barb and finally found them in
all the crowds. We walked with them and thousands of other people into the
velodrome where we saw all those riders who were ready to go and take the
challenge for being a part of PBP 2003. We wished good luck and abandoned
them to their fate. Barbara and I went down on the street and waited for the
first group to start. We got a good spot and then tried to figure out, in
which group they were in. We just saw thousands of lights which looked from
the distance like lightning bugs. Only when the riders were pretty close you
could see their faces. After waiting for a long time we eventually saw them
passing us with smiles on their faces. This was the moment they had waited
for after training several months.
Start of the support team
When we started at 5:00 am the next morning we missed
the exit on the interstate and decided to take the next exit which led us to
the main gate of castle Versailles which was closed that time in the
morning. This was only the first time we get lost. Several other similar
situations followed. With a GPS and a computer in the car, we always found
our way back quickly. I soon learned to love the many roundabouts you can
find in France. Barbara always told me the exit which I had to take like
reading a watch: 3:00 o’clock meant right turn, 9:00 o’clock left turn,
12:00 o’clock straight ahead. When she told me 6:00 o’clock, I always knew
we were lost.If she needed a little bit more time to figure out the route, I
kept circling. What a wonderful development those roundabouts are.
The control points
The control points were not clearly marked at the route
sheet, but we realized soon that it was easy to find them. Even when we were
not usually allowed to go the same route as the riders, we could do that
within the small towns. We followed the riders or mostly some of the RV’s.
One time a group of ten cars followed one RV which led us to a dead end. We
were all in a good mood and laughed at ourselves. The control points were
crowded all the time. Reinhard called us over the cell phone and told us
what he wanted. We stayed in line to get the food or went shopping to buy
the food he liked to eat. Sometimes you had to stay in line for at least 30
minutes or more. The riders also had to stay in line for restrooms. We
couldn’t help with that.
What to do and what to see on the tour
We also experienced that there was not much time for
sightseeing. Mostly we were busy with driving, buying food, standing in line
to get food at the control points, shopping for the special needs and
waiting at the control points. It wasn’t that bad because we had a lot of
fun at the control points watching all the riders with their different bikes
and listening to the support groups that sometimes sang traditional songs
when their riders came in. All this and talking to different people made it
worth while to give up our first thoughts of sightseeing and vacation. Over
all we were mostly busy with support duties, but sometimes we found one of
those little cafés, set down, and watched the riders coming in while having
a cup of coffee and a croissant. We enjoyed how the French decorated their
towns with flowers for this occasion.
The worst thing was missing sleep. The route for the
supporting cars led us through scenic areas. The bad thing about that was
slow driving, many miles and nothing other than country side. Sometimes it
was hard to find a place to have lunch. The hotels were mostly several miles
beyond the route and the control points. One night we had to decide between
dinner or sleep. We decided to sleep, but that was only 1 hour. We had to
get up again, drive to the control point and meet Reinhard who needed the
van to sleep in and recharged batteries for his light. While Reinhard slept
in the van, Barbara and I stayed in the front seats and tried to get some
sleep, too. It wasn’t that easy. Two or three hours later, Reinhard stood up
and got ready to leave again. After we helped him find everything he needed,
got him some food, and waited until he went out again, we drove back to the
hotel and slept for another 2 hours or so. One time during the day I had to
find a parking lot to get 30 minutes sleep because I couldn’t drive anymore.
The last night we decided to cancel the hotel because it was too far away
from the control point, and it didn’t make sense to do all that driving
without much sleep.
One night we couldn’t find a parking lot close to the
control point. We parked one 1 mile away on the top of a hill. Then we
walked down to the control point, and we decided it wouldn’t work. When
Reinhard came in tired and cold, he would not want to climb the hill. At
that moment Barbara spotted an empty parking lot. While I was walking back
to the car, Barbara blocked the parking lot for the van, ready to fight if
necessary. Now we were directly near the control point. We were satisfied
with our job.
The finish was nothing spectacular. We saw about 4000
riders and several hundreds of visitors at the start. At the finish we saw
about 3 or 5 riders every minute and maybe 100 people who watched the
finish. The riders got their last stamp and that was the end. Of course in
the velodrome were many riders who talked together, some of them were just
sleeping on the grass after they came in. Reinhard was so excited, that he
didn’t feel sleepy at all and stayed at the velodrome for about two hours.
Then we went back to the hotel, took a shower and got ready for bed at 8:00
pm. We all needed a twelve-hour sleep.
Would we do it again?
I believe that the support team had the same feelings
as the riders. Most of them said “No” directly after the finish. A day later
it didn’t look that bad. It was hard and we were tired, but we also had a
lot of fun, too. The next time we could do things better now that we know
what to expect, and maybe it would be easier. We don’t know yet, but we have
time: next PBP is 2007.